Local doctors and entomologists, who study insects, are warning residents about a recent spike in Long Island’s tick population, which they say was brought on by this year’s warmer temperatures and increased rainfall.
“Ticks dry out in the sun,” said Jim Skinner, an associate certified entomologist and the owner of A&C Pest Management in East Meadow. Leaf litter and tall grass give the arachnids a moist place to hide, Skinner added, but after a rainstorm, ticks can survive elsewhere.
According to Paul Pipia, president of Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, this year’s “unusually short and warm winter” allowed ticks to reproduce at a greater rate than in previous years.
Pipia and Skinner are among the experts who are debating whether the discovery of two tick species previously not seen in the New York area should be cause for alarm — the lone star tick and long-horned tick.
The lone star tick was identified on Long Island for the first time roughly two years ago, after migrating from southern states. Long-horned ticks have been found this year in a number of places in Westchester County and parts of New Jersey, and Pipia questions how fast they will multiply and when they will be found on Long Island.
“[It is] only a matter of time before they start coming,” he said, adding that they travel in swarms, attack livestock and can reproduce asexually.
“We’re starting to see different species of insects in the U.S. that are not indigenous and bring with them different diseases,” Skinner explained. In recent years, the lone star tick generated headlines by supposedly causing its hosts to develop a “meat allergy.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the lone star tick could trigger an allergy by transmitting alpha-gal, a complex sugar found in the flesh of some of its hosts, to which some mammals are allergic.
Despite her concern, avid hiker Chrissy Hirsch, of East Meadow, said that dealing with ticks is second nature for her. “I’ve been hiking since I was a kid,” she said. “I still remember my first tick attachment. Left knee, deer tick.”
Hirsch often spends time at local parks and hiking trails with her children, Zoe, 7, and Elliot, 5. “Ticks that we find when we come home from a hike, we burn,” she said, adding that she finds it to be a more effective way of disposing of them after removing them from clothing or skin. “I don’t recommend putting them down the drain, because there’s a chance they can crawl back up.”
Hirsch brings a pair of tweezers on every hike to pluck ticks from her children’s clothes or skin. She has also saved ticks in Ziploc bags to have them tested for diseases, a practice that Skinner recommends in the case of a tick bite.
It takes time for a tick to transmit a disease after a bite, but the risk is greater if the tick is discovered fully engorged. Skinner urged that those who are bitten monitor their health and see a doctor if they experience any flu or fever-like symptoms.
Lou Russo, 47, of East Meadow, is a demolition worker who spends most of his days in grassy backyards. He was bitten by a tick in May 2017, and 10 days later he developed flu-like symptoms. He was immediately diagnosed with Lyme disease and his symptoms subsided after two months of taking an antibiotic called doxycycline.
Only certain ticks carry Lyme disease, although New York state has the highest number of Lyme cases in the country — 95,000 Lyme infections since 1986, according to the CDC.
“Just be vigilant,” Skinner said. “You have to go ahead and check your whole body each time you go into the woods.”
Alexandra Dieckmann contributed to this story.